Wednesday, November 28, 2012

TBR welcomes William Doonan

TBR: Welcome to TBR, William. Will you share a little bit about yourself?
William: Thanks for talking with me today.  My name is William Doonan.  I’m an archaeologist, a college professor, and a mystery writer.  I live in Sacramento, California with my wife Carmen, and my two little boys Will and Huey.  In my spare time, I’m learning to speak Irish.  I’ve been at it for about two years, and I now speak nearly as well as a six-month old Irish baby.

TBR: Tell us about American Caliphate and where it's available.
William: My archaeological mystery American Caliphate digs into the past to unearth clues at a pyramid complex in northern Peru.  These clues suggest an illegal and clandestine expedition by Spanish Moors in 1542, intent on bringing Islam to the New World.

It’s available from the publisher, Oak Tree Press,
or from any of the larger archaeology-themed bookstores near you.

TBR: Please tantalize us with a story blurb or excerpt.
Archaeologists Jila Wells and Ben Juarez are not thrilled at the prospect of returning to Peru; the ambush that nearly cost Jila her life still haunts her.  But the ruined pyramids at Santiago de Paz hide an important document that would shock the Islamic world.  Professor Sandy Beckham is assembling a distinguished team to dig quickly through the pyramid complex, following clues found in the diary of a wealthy Muslim woman who lived in Spain five centuries ago. 
In the diary are details of an illegal expedition to Spanish Peru in three well-armed ships.  Convinced that Spain was forever lost to Islam, Diego Ibanez intended to bring the word of Allah to the pagan Americans.  Landing on Peru’s north coast, he learned that the fires of the Inquisition burned even hotter there than they did in Spain.
As the archaeologists brace for the ravaging storms of El Niño, Jila and Ben hurry to complete their excavations.  But they’re not the only ones interested in this project.  Other forces are determined that the document remain hidden.  Should it be discovered, a challenge could be made under Islamic testamentary law to the throne of Saudi Arabia.  And the House of Saud has no interest in sharing power with an American caliphate that might now awaken from a five hundred year slumber.

TBR: What inspired you to write about the theme?
William: Well, there’s that old nugget of advice – write what you know.  And I know about archaeology.  I’ve spent years working on excavations in Central And South America, trying to add to an understanding of our shared human past.  But now and again, the evidence just doesn’t lead cleanly or clearly to a conclusion, so we have to admit that sometimes, our data do not support our anticipated outcome.

And that’s just part of being a scientist –- making a commitment to remain true to the evidence.  But part of a being a novelist entails the freedom to transcend the evidence.  I have some pretty strong ideas about what happened at certain moments in time, in the past, and I wanted to weave those ideas into a story.

TBR: Do you have a favorite quote you’d like to share?
William: Yes, an old Irish saying – “Is maith an scealai an aimsir.” – Time is a good storyteller.

TBR: While creating your books, what was one of the most surprising things you learned?
William: I suspect the most surprising thing I’ve leaned is that my characters start standing up for themselves in my own mind.  Here’s what I mean – one of the antagonists in American Caliphate is a smuggler named Walter Ibanez.  He’s not a nice guy, but he has his own standards and values.  At one point, as I was writing the book, I had Walter hiding behind a couch eavesdropping on a conversation that Jila, the main character, was having.  And halfway through the scene, I could hear Walter’s voice in the back of my mind saying “I don’t think so.  I’m not getting down on my knees to hide.  I’m not that kind of man.”  And he was right.  He’d have too much pride.  He’d get the information he needed some other way.  And ultimately he did.

TBR: Tease us with one little thing about your fictional world that makes it different from others.
William: My fictional world is a veneer overlaying the real world.  But I’m fortunate to have some knowledge of a part of the real world that many people don’t.  Archaeologists peel away layers of the past, moving back in time.  That’s fascinating to me.  It’s why I became an archaeologist in the first place.  And it informs my writing because I can populate all those layers with characters tuned to each place and time.

TBR: Any other published works?
William: Yes, thank you for asking.  I’ve spent a number of summers lecturing aboard cruise ships.  I talk about the archaeology, art history, and history of the places the ship will be visiting.  And after about a decade of this, I realized I had learned quite a bit about cruise ship culture.

Cruises are among the very safest places you can be.  Realistically, there’s little chance of a pirate attack, and even less chance of capsizing (although of course both have been known to happen).  That being said, crimes do happen on board.  It’s extremely rare, but thefts occur, assaults, even murder.  And because ships are self-contained entities, there’s little chance of calling the police.  Instead, onboard security has to respond to crimes or threats. 

And a ship at sea in international waters is kind of on its own.  Jurisdiction at sea is a tricky issue.  That’s where I felt I had a niche.  I would write a mystery series about detective who investigates crimes on cruise ships.  His name is Henry Grave, and he’s eighty-five years old, so he fits right  in!

12 million people take a cruise each year.
Most have fun.
Some die.
Henry Grave investigates.

Grave Passage was published in 2009, Mediterranean Grave in 2011, and Grave Indulgence in 2012.  Currently, I’m halfway through the first draft of Aleutian Grave.

TBR: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? Most rewarding?
William: I have two little boys, ages 6 and 5.  For me, the most challenging aspect of being a writer is finding time to actually do any of it.  And the most rewarding aspect is the bewildered look on their little faces when I tell them what I’ve been writing about.  One day it will make sense to them!

TBR: What’s the most interesting comment you have received about your books?
William: Michael Orenduff, author of The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, among other great books, called American Caliphate “Indiana Jones and The DaVinci Code rolled into one.”  I thought that was pretty great.

TBR: Where can readers find you on the web?
William:  Please stop by my website to visit –
I blog about cannibalistic sixteenth-century conquistador mummies at
If you’d like to get in contact with me, or if you read one of my books, let me know how you liked it.  You can find me at

TBR: Readers, William will give away a copy of one of his books to one lucky commenter. He'll pick a winner next week and announce the winner here. Be sure to leave your email address so he can contact you.

Thanks for visiting TBR, William. All the best to you.


  1. Welcome to TBR, William! Your book sounds fascinating. I'm glad no one died on the single cruise I took!

  2. Thanks Cate. In reality, cruise ships are pretty safe, like a small floating city populated exclusively by employed people. I'm glad you stayed safe.

  3. Cruise ship mysteries are so great! You get to say a little something about the different ports while still keeping a focus on the passengers and the mystery at hand.

  4. That was my plan, Eugenia. I was hoping to jump genres and write something that was half mystery and half travelogue.

  5. I understand what you mean about discovering something about your characters. I'm writing the next in my series and I am finding it a challenge to take my heroine so low even knowing she'll survive and come out on top.

  6. Sounds fun, Stephen. I hope she makes it for our sake!

  7. I'm excited :D I love all the Indiana stories and the Da Vinci stories, so American Caliphate is on my must-have-to-read list. I'm jumping up and down inside, like I'm 5. The teacher/science lover/geek in me, wants to read it now!

  8. That's great to hear, Penny. I hope you'll contact me and let me know how you liked it!


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